How Social Media is Fundamentally Changing Brazil

May 4, 2015
Michael Shue, SVP & Partner, Client Relations

We recently posted a blog entry that examined how social media is increasingly being used as a public affairs platform abroad, specifically in the UK, where parties outside of the traditional political hierarchy have used social media to speak directly to voters and have gained real traction.  Voters are increasing their political involvement via digital means, and in parliamentary systems, the result is a trend toward more coalition governments.  Social media is changing the larger conversation, in some ways even more than traditional print and broadcast media did in their early days.

This phenomenon is playing out in a similar and even more remarkable fashion in Brazil, a country that was culturally primed for this type of activity as both the top users of social media in the world and a population that has long been distinguished by its extraordinarily outgoing and communal culture.  So perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a surprise to see an estimated one million protesters take to the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, and Brasilia recently to confront institutions that once seemed untouchable.

This intense activism was a stark reaction to a possible scandal surfacing that may involve the sixth-largest energy company in the world, Petrobas, which is state-backed and enjoyed a monopoly in the country for many years.  A former top executive alleged that the company had sent $3.8 billion worth of kickbacks to possibly dozens of senior politicians, which may have included the heads of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies as well as a former president.

The country’s current president, Dilma Rousseff, a former chairman of Petrobas, has expressly denied any connection to the scandal.  But the old axiom of perception being reality has never been more potent than in the era of social media, so it has taken a toll on her coalition regardless as many of her partners and allies have been entangled, fairly or not.  Perhaps more importantly, it has derailed her response to the weakening Brazilian economy and in turn quashed her favorability among voters.  In fact, there are even calls for her impeachment among some in the middle- and upper-classes.

All this because of Facebook and Twitter?  Really?

When one considers that Brazil has the second-largest Facebook community in the world, or that 35 percent of Brazilians are Twitter users, and an astonishing 91 percent of the country’s 46 million Internet users over the age of 15 watch digital videos from home or work, it isn’t hard to see how messages that resonate with even a fraction of  overall users could send ripples throughout the electorate.  The entire online culture makes such a movement imminent if any dissatisfaction exists beneath the surface. 

The result: 72 percent of Brazilians online supported the demonstrations and a full 10 percent actually joined them.  And not unlike the sentiment in our country, young people hold a particular distrust for traditional political parties and state institutions; in fact, they are the majority of the citizen journalists and they are organizing grassroots activist groups like Mídia Ninja or Meu Rio. Young people aren’t only active on social media, but are an important part of the electorate, with Brazil’s voting age starting at 16.  Moreover, they’ve actually created their own tools such as Multitude—which lets campaign organizers connect with volunteers for tasks such as creating a sign, taking pictures, or showing up for a meeting—or Pressure Cooker, an enormously effective community organizing app.

The amazing thing about that sort of impact is that it eventually reaches far beyond the online world, so that even those without a computer are receiving a message they would not have heard in the past—and they’re taking action.  That’s the kind of effect the best social media campaigns should have.

How could that sort of influence affect the issues your organization cares about?

However the scandal plays out, the lesson should be clear for global public affairs professionals: social media is a critical part of public affairs in Brazil and Latin America at large. Much as we’ve seen here and in the UK, personal involvement in politics is increasing exponentially via digital means, and the people across the world are ready to be engaged on a myriad of issues.  

DDC specializes in designing and implementing social media campaign strategies—from targeted, multi-channel property management to robust social listening and reporting on the pulse of the digital conversation—to help our clients achieve their goals.

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